Cage size has always been a topic of disagreement among aviculturists and pet bird owners. But what is all the confusion about? There are several factors that play into the cage size controversy which we will examine. Not surprisingly, one of them is money and another space. Often times making the sale takes precedence over accurate or helpful information. This is especially true with pet stores where you are purchasing a parrot. Many stores will sell you what they have in stock or what's in the customers desired price range as opposed to what is really in the best interest of the parrot.
You will often hear guidelines such as "buy the largest cage you can afford" or "buy the largest cage you have room for." But is that acceptable? What if you want a large macaw and the largest cage you can afford after purchasing the bird is an 18x18 inch cage? Or the most room you have is for a 2x2 in the den and you like Moluccan cockatoos. The above questions set people up to fail when selecting a new home for their feathered friend because they are both people based - not parrot based questions. In other words the questions are asking "how much do you want to spend?" and "how much space do you want to give up?" Naturally people want to spend as little as possible and take up as less of the living room, kitchen, etc as possible. So people are really being prompted to find the smallest and cheapest cage they can, which is conducive to making more sales....exactly what retailers want! Think about it.
"People based" questions set people up to fail when selecting a cage for their feathered friend. We need to ask "parrot based" questions instead.
A person walks into a pet store and falls in love with a beautiful baby African Grey. When they ask about the cage, many sellers will readily agree and encourage inadequate or uneducated choices in order to facilitate an impulse purchase. Most sales people will usually respond with something to the effect of "it should be fine as long as you take them out a lot." 9 times out of 10 you will get this response. Why? Because the reply "it's fine as long as you take them out a lot" is really saying "the cage is too small for that bird to be in for long periods of time." This means that they are telling you the truth no matter how small of a cage you pick out. This is setting you up to fail long term with parrot ownership - read more in regards to that in the article Red Line: Keeping your bird for the long run.
Why the confusion? Because after reassuring buyers that the small, unobtrusive, affordable, cage is fine for the parrot they are interested in, people are much more likely to buy the bird and cage on the spot because it is small and inexpensive enough to purchase without further consideration. If the sales clerk would respond, "No, an intelligent parrot like an African Grey really needs a $900 cage that is a minimum of 6 ft long, a large playgym, expensive cooked foods, and an outdoor aviary which will cost $1000 or more." Most people would rethink an impulse purchase or opt to pass up the baby bird all together. Better questions - parrot based questions - need to be asked in order to encourage more appropriate answers and give parrot owners a solid guidance system.
"it's fine as long as you take them out a lot" is really saying "the cage is too small for that bird to be in for long periods of time."
Another confusing issue arises due to the complexity of parrots themselves. We have all seen the Amazon in the dirty 12x12 inch cage with one perch and a bowl full of sunflower seeds in a grungy basement or garage. The confusion arises because the Amazon will still talk excitedly to visitors and sing the most entertaining songs with tail fanned and eyes pinning in that charming trademark Amazon way. The bird will have all of it's feathers and lives for 40 years. So it's obviously "fine" in those conditions, right? Obviously not. But the resilience and individual personalities make defining unacceptable conditions a shade of grey. Then we also know the Amazon who is cherished and lives in a 3x4 cage full of toys and plucks himself bald. These inconsistencies makes it impossible to conclusively link a certain cage size to "parrot need" or "parrot happiness" based on parrot feather condition or behavior alone. We need to look further into basic behaviors exhibited in the wild that continue to occur across all slices of captive life. For example: wing flapping. Wing flapping occurs in wild birds, incubator hatched handfed babies, captive bred parent-raised birds, and wild caught breeders - so we can say that birds need to be able to flap their wings. Chewing, bonding, vocalizing, bathing, and play behaviors are all basic parrot behaviors.
A final contributing factor to making the selection of a parrot cage clear as mud is contradictory space requirements vs. behavior requirements. For instance we are told the space requirements for a macaw is a 2'x3' cage, but in the same breath they will tell you to buy a cage that accomodates the behavior requirement of wing flapping- something a macaw can't do in a 2'x3' cage. Confusing for sure!
According to the publication "The Large Macaws: their care and breeding" all large macaws have a wingspan of at least 36 inches, most greater. This means that for a macaw to "flap it's wings in it's cage" and "to turn around without hitting any part of their body on the cage" the cage needs to be an absolute minimum of 40 inches by 40 inches of EMPTY space. And I say absolute minimum because birds are very aware of their surroundings. Many birds will not flap their wings if the cage is a tight squeeze, nor do many birds put the time into finding the exact center of their enclosure in order to do so. Just as you would not want to run full speed through a door way only 2 inches larger than your shoulder width, parrots do not like to flap in cages barely larger than their wingspans. Extra space in needed to allow vigorous play.
However, the vast majority of recommended 'minimum size' requirements for a large macaw continue to be 2'x3', 30"x40,"or a 3'x4' and cages frequently labeled "macaw cages" are smaller than these dimensions. ALL of which are inadequate to accommodate the spacial and physical requirements for flapping and turning around unencumbered. Likewise, African Grays and amazons have a 24-28 inch wingspan. This makes the very typical "grey" cage, the 2'x3', inappropriate as well.
Another source of confusion originates from advertising photos. A picture is worth a 1000 words. So when we see photos of parrots on cages, we assume that would be an appropriate size cage. Many manufacturers and retailers often put a variety of parrots on their cages sending the message "it doesn't matter what type of bird you put in here" to the consumer. After all, common sense dictates, if you shouldn't house a greenwing macaw in a 32x23, why would you take a picture of the cage with two macaws on it? Look at advertising photos from well known cage manufacturers. Confusing for sure!
The other tricky thing to note is that most all cage vendors take photos of their cages EMPTY! This makes the cage appear larger, but we know that our cages are not only going to have 1 perch and 1 toy in them. Cages fill up very quickly when you put a bell, swing, wood perch, foraging toy, boing, wood block toy, and a preening toy inside. Then add the bird and 3 dishes of food and water. Suddenly even spreading their wings or turning around freely is completely out of the question. Remember when you consider your birds wingspan that you are leaving that space in the cage completely empty. So if you are looking for a cage for your new baby eclectus, it's 24-30 inch wingspan does not mean you buy a cage 36" wide. It means you buy a cage where 36" by 36" can be left completely empty and then you add another 36 inches for toys, perches, and food dishes, etc. Additionally, many books, magazines, and experts recommend horizontal space as the most important dimension, but how many cages are really wider than they are taller? Very few!
Our cage size recommendations are for the benefit of you, your family, and your bird. Housing your intelligent, sensitive, playful pet in an appropriate sized cage is your first step towards success.
This is when we need to ask those better questions, those parrot based questions, those questions that so many of the most respected aviculturists, authors, and parrot behaviorists recommend. These include things like "what size cage do I need so my parrot can flap his wings in his cage?" and "what size cage allows the bird to turn around without hitting any part of their body on the cage or other items?" It also includes good recommendations such as "cages should be wider than taller" and "the cage should be large enough for 3 -5 perches, 3 dishes, and at least 5 toys."
So how do we pick out the right size cage with all the wrong information out there. Here is my recommendation. Look up your birds wingspans and then purchase a beach ball that accurately represents your birds wing flap area. For example, if your parrot has a 24" wingspan get a ball that has a two foot diameter. Then purchase 5 toys and 3 perches (or all the toys and perches that you want to put in your birds cage) and start looking at cages. Put in all the toys and perches and then see if the ball fits. I think you will be quite shocked at how much space you need in relation to what is typically 'recommended' for your desired species.
Also consider locomotion methods, species specific idiosyncrasies, and energy level of your bird. Some birds like lories and cockatoos love to hop and jump between perches. Is the cage large enough to accommodate an obstacle free area for them to do this? Finches and bourkes need to be able to fly between perches. Caiques and some of the African species love to roll around upside down on the bottom of their cages. Is the cage large enough to create a 'clear space' so they have a poop free area on the bottom of the cage in which to play? African grays are notorious for hanging upside down and 'fighting' with their toys. Is there a large, clear, area of the cage available to hang a bell toy for inverted sparring? Parrotlets are balls of energy and although they could fit in an 12"x 12" cage their energy level necessitates a much larger enclosure.
At Natural Inspirations Parrot Cages we want you to keep your parrots for the long run. Our cage size recommendations are for the benefit of you, your family, and your bird. Housing your intelligent, sensitive, playful pet in an appropriate sized cage is your first step towards success. Be realistic in your enclosure choice and start off on the right foot to save yourself problems, frustrations, and money down the road. Read the article Red Line for more info.
Set yourself up to succeed!